Analysis: Ohio’s 2020 primary, dramatic and unprecedented, generally positive for LGBTQ Ohioans

The 2020 Ohio Primary Election is officially over. Due to complications from the coronavirus, the election originally scheduled for March 17th was moved to an (almost) entirely vote-by-mail system with the deadline to return absentee ballots extended to April 28th. Our team was up late into the night watching results come in, and we wanted to bring you some highlights. 

Overall, Tuesday was a good night for LGBTQ Ohioans. In this post we are going to talk about races for US Congress, the Ohio House of Representatives, and the Ohio Senate. There were also some exciting local races across the state, including a sheriff’s race in Southwest Ohio where a lesbian woman defeated the incumbent sherriff, who she said demoted her because she was a woman and a lesbian, by a margin of 70% to 30%.

Turnout & Access to Voting in the Midst of COVID-19

In the 2016 primary, 3,302,832 (43.6%) votes were cast. This year, turnout was just over half that at only 1,760,988 (22.7%) votes cast. 

Significantly lower turnout in this election can be linked to several things, but the three biggest impacts were the uncertainty around how the election would be conducted in the context of the coronavirus, the last-minute decision to close polling locations on the original election day, and the short time frame that the Ohio Legislature gave for absentee ballots to be returned to local boards of elections. 

In order to protect Ohioans’ right to vote, even under coronavirus social distancing conditions, Equality Ohio joined the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition and made these suggestions to the Ohio Legislature to protect our elections moving forward. 

US Congressional Primaries

Map of the US with four members of Ohio's congressional delegation (dems from OH-3, 9, 11, and 13; Beatty, Kaptur, Fudge and Ryan)

The primary races for US Congress in Ohio were largely unexciting, with every incumbent candidate moving on to the general election in November. This includes all of the incumbent candidates who voted for the Equality Act in the current Congress. They are Representatives Joyce Beatty (OH-3), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Marcia Fudge (OH-11), and Tim Ryan (OH-13).

On the Democratic side, Daniel Kilgore, a candidate in the 15th district, lost his primary to Joel Newby. As an openly gay candidate, if Kilgore would have won last night and again in November, he would have been the first openly LGBTQ member of the Ohio Congressional delegation. We will have to wait another two years to potentially see open and out LGBTQ people as a part of our Congressional delegation. Fortunately, Joel Newby has presented a comprehensive pro-LGBTQ platform on his website.

On the Republican side, we were disappointed to see Christina Hagan win the primary in OH-13. As a member of the Ohio House in the 132nd Ohio General Assembly, Hagan regularly attacked LGBTQ Ohioans and received an F on our 2018 Scorecard. She was a co-sponsor of the so-called “Pastor Protection Act,” which sought to weaken Ohio’s existing nondiscrimination protections. Hagan will be running against LGBTQ equality champion, Tim Ryan, in November. Ryan was a co-sponsor of the Equality Act and bills to combat bullying against LGBTQ Americans in schools and universities. 

Ohio Senate Primaries

The Ohio Senate primaries were also largely uncontested, but a few were not. And those that were not gave us tremendous hope for our work in the Ohio Senate, especially in the Republican primary. The Ohio Senate serves in four-year terms, with half of the seats on the ballot every two years. This year, even-numbered districts are on the ballot. 

On the Democratic side, Senators Vernon Sykes (OH-28) and Sean O’Brien (SD-32) were both in uncontested races and will be on the ballot in November. They are both allies to LGBTQ Ohioans and co-sponsors of the Ohio Fairness Act.

Two of the most important races of the night were on the Republican side in the Ohio Senate primaries. Two candidates for the Republican nomination—Candice Keller and Melissa Ackison—made attacking LGBTQ Ohioans a central part of their election campaigns. And they lost by significant margins! Republicans in their districts, along with people across the country, rejected their deliberate attacks on LGBTQ Ohioans. In these races, Ohio proved that the hateful and violent ideology that these two candidates promoted will not win in our state.

Candice Keller, who lost her primary and earned an “F” on our LGBTQ Elected Officials Scorecard earned notoriety after blaming a mass shooting in Dayton on same-sex marriage and drag-queens.

Candice Keller has been a key figure in the legislative attacks against LGBTQ Ohioans of the past several years, supporting the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” in the 132nd General Assembly, earning her an F on our 2018 Scorecard. She also co-sponsored two of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation in the country during the current GA. In addition, Keller has consistently made abhorrent comments about the LGBTQ community, with the most notable being a Facebook post blaming “transgender, homosexual marriage and drag queen advocates” [sic] for the tragic mass shooting in Dayton last August. 

Melissa Ackison, who lost her primary to Bill Reineke, has used the 2019-20 election season to malign LGBTQ people and target pro-LGBTQ individuals for harassment campaigns by her followers on social media.

Melissa Ackison has now been rejected by voters in multiple elections and continually attacks LGBTQ communities––including by accusing her winning opponent of riding off into the sunset in “Brokeback style”. A self-avowed “conservative activist,” Ackison has been leading far-right attacks against minorities for several years. Recently, she made herself the face of a crusade against youth who seek to perform drag, publicly smearing a family after a young person performed for charity in a safe and supportive environment. As a part of her Ohio Senate campaign, she gave misinformed and hateful testimony in support of SB187, which would punish businesses that provide supportive spaces for these performances. 

The candidates who defeated Keller and Ackison—George Lang and Bill Reineke respectively—do not have flawless records on LGBTQ issues. On our 2018 Scorecard, Lang earned a D and Reineke earned a C. Given that their victory  illustrates that LGBTQ equality is a winning issue and attacking LGBTQ families is not, they should advocate for their LGBTQ constituents by supporting the Ohio Fairness Act.

Ohio House Primaries

The Ohio House primaries went about as everyone expected with fairly little excitement. Most races were uncontested, and among the uncontested races on the Republican side were Representatives Brett Hillyer, the Republican lead sponsor of the Ohio Fairness and a co-sponsor of HB503 (protecting LGBTQ youth against conversion therapy), and Rick Carfagna, who also co-sponsored HB503. Hillyer won more votes in his uncontested race this year than were cast in a three-way primary in 2018, an outstanding vote of confidence from his Republican constituents.

One notable contested race in the Republican primary was in HD-71 between Representative Mark Frazier and Thaddeus Claggett. Claggett centered his campaign on demonizing Frazier’s support of an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance while he was a Newark City Council member. Although Frazier didn’t defend the ordinance or LGBTQ people from these attacks, we hope that after winning this race so narrowly, he will also see that LGBTQ equality in Ohio is an issue that his constituents support. Frazier will face Mark Carr in November, who is openly gay.

The other Republican primary to celebrate is Marilyn John’s defeat of Nathan Martin in HD-02. While we don’t know a lot about John yet, Nathan Martin has long been a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality and was endorsed by anti-LGBTQ organizations such as Family First and Ohio Value Voters. 

On the Democratic side, every incumbent candidate who co-sponsored the Ohio Fairness Act won their primary. Also, Dara Adkison (HD-57) and Mark Carr (HD-71) were uncontested in their respective primary races for the Ohio House and will be on the ballot in November as openly LGBTQ candidates.

The Take

In all, the results of the primary election showed us two things: 

1) Ohio has a lot more work to do to make sure that our elections are free, fair, safe, and accessible under the social distancing policies that need to be in place and likely will remain in place through the 2020 election cycle; and 

2) deliberately using anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in campaigns in Ohio won’t gain you points and will help you lose you your election. 

LGBTQ equality is a winning position in Ohio, with 71% support for nondiscrimination protections among Ohioans and majorities of every demographic group and subgroup. As we head into the general election, make sure that those competing for your vote know how important it is to pass these protections at the state and federal level and hold them accountable for supporting those measures.